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The Project and Its Attempts to Initiate Connective Action

The third paper in this ANZCA 2017 session is by Stephen Harrington, Tim Highfield, and me, and I'm including our presentation slides below. We explore the #milkeddry campaign initiated by Australian news entertainment TV show The Project.

The Project, which has been running on Network Ten since 2009, combines panel discussion on current news and entertainment matters with celebrity interviews and comedy; it is influenced in part by overseas formats addressing a young adult audience, like The Daily Show, but also clearly distinct in its approach from these models. It may be best classed as 'infotainment', and like other such shows has been criticised for its irreverent and sometimes more superficial approach to the news, but at the same time also has a licence to be more strident in the political statements it makes. Debates over the role of infotainment in stimulating political action, or alternatively in perpetuating nihilism, apathy, and disconnection, continue.

We explore The Project's own role in this by examining a particular campaign initiated by the show. Co-host Waleed Aly has a regular feature called 'Something We Should Talk About', which highlights selected current issues and has at times generated considerable public responses. In May 2016, the subject of one such segment was the exploitative approach of major supermarket chains to their dealings with Australian dairy farmers; farmers are now being paid less money for their milk than it costs them to produce, and those changes were introduced retrospectively (meaning that farmers suddenly owed money to these distributors). Framed under the banner 'Milked Dry', with an associated hashtag, the programme promoted consumer choices that avoided major chain products and supported local, community-based dairy producers.

But what is the impact of such calls to arms; do they create merely a brief and limited response, or can they become a starting point for connective action that continues even beyond the attention paid to the issue by The Project itself? We identified some 15,000 tweets that addressed #milkeddry, @theprojecttv, and the agricultural #agchatoz hashtag, yet this constitutes a fairly small social media echo to the segment; some of the images associated with the segment were shared widely on Twitter, as was a petition to the government to address the issue, but most of the activity immediately surrounded The Project's own Twitter account, without spreading further into the Australian Twittersphere. Notably, connections with the well-established #agchatoz community of farmers and agripolicy activists were extremely limited, suggesting that even this community did not get involved particularly strongly.

Nonetheless, the segment did have some impact beyond social media; there were media reports about (at least temporarily) changing consumer behaviours, but it may be a stretch to regard this as a sign of successful connective action.